If Olentangy High School baseball coach Ryan Lucas felt like he was taking a gamble putting Caden Kaiser into the leadoff spot during the first game of his freshman season, those thoughts evaporated almost as quickly as Kaiser decided to jump on the first pitch he saw.
"His first pitch, he hit a line drive down the left-field line and got a triple," Lucas said. "We threw him in the fire to see what he could do. As soon as he slid into third base, I knew this guy was going to be special, that he might be the best player I've ever coached.
"Physically, he might not have been ready to play varsity. Skill-wise, there was no doubt about it."
Kaiser, who admitted thinking he wouldn't make varsity as a freshman, let alone start, barely has slowed down or left the top of the batting order since.
The Braves' senior center fielder and pitcher, an Ohio State recruit, carried a .389 career batting average -- including 105 hits and 38 RBI -- into an April 17 game at Westerville Central. He never has batted less than .343 for a season, including averages of .442 as a sophomore and .400 as a junior, and earned honorable mention all-state in Division I last year and first-team all-OCC-Buckeye Division each of the past two seasons.
Olentangy won district championships in Kaiser's freshman and junior seasons and was a district runner-up two years ago.
This season, he was 4-for-13 (.308) with a home run and six RBI in limited action because of injury. Olentangy was 8-5 overall and 3-2 in the league before April 17.
"I've always had high expectations with myself but to be honest, freshman year I didn't even expect to make varsity," Kaiser said. "I was just trying to earn trust with my coaches. I came in and worked every day and saw what that got me.
"(Hitting) leadoff is different but it takes time to get used to. Once I did, it stuck. If you can set the tone in the first inning for the rest of the game, it can impact everything else. I feel humbled saying I've done a decent job of being a good leadoff hitter."
Lucas also considers Kaiser the Braves' top pitcher, as he started their season opener March 23 against Teays Valley and earned the win by holding the Vikings hitless and striking out three in four innings. He also was the winning pitcher in last year's district final against Hilliard Darby.
Another Ohio State commit, sophomore Jace Middleton, plays center field when Kaiser pitches.
"(Kaiser) hasn't pitched as much in the past because he hasn't had to," Lucas said. "We had depth (in previous seasons) and we needed him elsewhere."
Kaiser committed to Ohio State in June 2017, roughly two months after being offered. He also was offered by Xavier and Wright State.
"Caden is a smooth swinging left-handed hitter with the size, speed and versatility to play both in the outfield and at first base," Buckeyes coach Greg Beals said after Kaiser signed in November.
Kaiser also was a standout wide receiver for the football team during the past three seasons, breaking the 1,000-yard plateau last fall when he caught 56 passes for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his career, he made 145 catches for 2,276 yards and 23 scores.
"He's everything that we represent here," Lucas said. "Sometimes, the best player doesn't always play the hardest of everybody on the team, especially somebody who is so highly regarded from a college standpoint. He could easily bag it but he'd never consider it.
"He represents everything we value at Olentangy."
Girls lacrosse team scoring big
Helped by three games in which it scored at least 20 goals, the girls lacrosse team won seven of its first nine contests and braced for a road showdown with last year's Division I state runner-up, New Albany, on April 16.
Entering the game, Olentangy was 7-1-1 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Buckeye.
The Braves averaged 16 goals through nine games and failed to score 10 goals only once in that time, in a 10-9 loss at Granville on March 19. They reached their season-high scoring output in a 21-12 win at Berlin on April 2 and a 21-9 home win over Westerville Central on April 9 and almost reached that mark April 11 in a 20-4 rout of Orange.
Maddie Garner had six goals and Kenzie Sklar added four against the Pioneers.
The Braves went 1-0-1 in the Hannigan-Galipault Tournament on April 13 at Thomas Worthington, defeating Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown 16-4 and tying Medina at 11.
Softball coach earns milestone win
Not only did the softball team start OCC-Buckeye play with a win by defeating Westerville South 10-0 in six innings April 10, but coach Alan Tharp earned his 100th career win in the process.
Tharp was 102-79 in six-plus seasons at Olentangy before the Braves played Orange on April 17. His teams won league championships in the OCC-Capital in 2013 and the OCC-Buckeye last year before capturing their first district championship since 1999 and finishing as a regional runner-up.
Brynn Kibler had three hits to lead the Braves past South and, in the circle, struck out six and allowed four hits in a complete-game win.
Olentangy was 6-10 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Buckeye before April 17.
Payton Cox, Olivia Davidson and Kibler each had two hits in a 7-5 loss to Westerville North on April 11.
Tharp was an assistant coach at Pickerington Central from 2004-10 and Capital in 2011 and 2012 before coming to Olentangy.
None of his Braves teams have finished under .500 or won fewer than 13 games in a season.